Leon's Lounge
There's no other bar in Midtown -- or in Houston, for that matter -- like Leon's Lounge. Not only does it boast an existence spanning nearly six decades -- quite a feat, considering the blink-and-you-missed-it nature of Houston businesses -- it's also the most interesting place you can find any night of the week in Midtown. If you happen to show up when the owners are in good spirits and hanging out with the patrons, you're guaranteed to have a night that will include -- at the bare minimum -- a long conversation with a lovely lady named Scarlet. And, if you're lucky, sit back for an impromptu concert by Scarlet's mom.
Poison Girl
Though a number of other worthy watering holes crowd the field, Poison Girl strong-arms the competition with its outstanding service, noteworthy patio and, most of all, its compulsion to give back. Despite being all but concealed in shadows, Poison Girl has become popular through word of mouth. Why? It's a bar for adults who want to drink: There's no food on the menu (unless you're on a liquid diet), and patrons know they can enjoy a Lone Star in an atmosphere devoid of nervous giggling and whispering from the barely-21 set. Regulars populate the bar most weeknights, but on the weekend the bar draws fresh faces who've heard tell of the pinball, the patio and the pinup art. And on the first Sunday of each month, Poison Girl presents "Drink Houston Better," during which all sales proceeds go directly to a local charitable organization. So even those who never darken Poison Girl's shadowy doorway benefit from the imprint left by its considerable neighborhood presence.
Warren's Inn
Warren's is a bar. You drink at Warren's. You don't watch the game, you don't pick up chicks. You have them pour you a stiff cocktail and you put John Lee Hooker on the juke and you smoke a cigarette. You look at the inevitable old drunk guy, and you make a toast to his liver. He belongs here, in this old, dimly lit, cozy corner of downtown. He belongs here as much as Warren's belongs in Houston. It's the polar opposite of the velvet-rope crap just down the street, and both the old drunk guy and Warren's will be there long after those clubs burn out. And, with any luck, you'll be there, too, lighting another smoke while Otis comes on. And this time, you'll say, make it a double.
Onion Creek, with its decidedly Austin-esque vibe, is a great place to grab a drink and catch up with friends. Half coffee shop, half wine bar, it's the perfect combination of casual cool and laid-back hip. Go on a Saturday night
and you're likely to see a few local celebrities/Onion Creek regulars hanging out on the patio. As if that isn't enough to entice you, perhaps the fact that Onion Creek serves beer, seafood and steak, and that the Houston Farmers Market is held behind it every Saturday, will get you off your sofa.
Agora
Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Dear Agora: You have us spellbound. So much so that we will risk breaking our neck on your steep staircase and pay a little more than we should for that Greek coffee whatchamacallit or that Shiner Bock. But we will do this because you kick ass. We love your warm, woody interior. We love your belly dancers on Wednesday nights. We love your wine selection. We love pretending we're in some old-world European haunt when we smoke our cigs and lean against your upstairs railing. You're unlike any other coffeehouse we know, Agora. And we're not just saying that so we can taste your baklava.
South Beach
Probably the most popular gay bar among straights and hags, South Beach is the hub of the Pacific Street district, the sparkling gem of Montrose. True, most of the men there are gorgeous. Sure, the go-go boys are divine. Yes, the drinks are stronger than the love of those two cowgays from Brokeback Mountain. But what sets SoBe apart is its fabulous dance floor: There's not a single club in town, maybe in the state, that matches its style. The light displays are exotic and entrancing -- their laseriffic spell will pull even the most rhythmless. And the Kryogen Ifex Liquid Ice Jets bathe the dancers at the center of the floor with a cool mist so thick you can't see the person right in front of you. What an opportunity to misbehave! But, fret not, tiny dancer. What happens at SoBe...
Paul Oddo (pronounced "OH-doe") isn't a giant on the city's professional comedy scene, but he's sparked some humorous fires at alternative venues such Rudyard's and The Proletariat. It's likely his native Houston isn't ready to embrace his long-winded, introspective style: His approach to stand-up is more thought-provoking and anecdotal than the mainstream style this city is typically spoon-fed. He's more like a Patton Oswalt than a Jerry Seinfeld, which is probably why hip, younger crowds inside the Loop love him (and certainly his Dane Cook-like dashing good looks and mesmerizing basso profundo voice don't hurt), while older, more blue-collar crowds in the Pasa-"git 'er done"-dena area shift in their seats and furrow their brows in confusion.
We usually rail on hipster types who begin sentences with "Oh, you mean you've never...," but if you missed these parties, well, it sucks to be you. From the understaffed, expectation-blowing explosion that was the first event to the overcrowded, throbbing mlange that was the last, the Beats of Basquiat were the best all-around parties this town has seen in who knows how long. Break-dancers, blue-hairs, scenesters, fashionistas, hip-hoppers, suits, emos, screamos, frat boys, high schoolers -- the whole town came down to shake its assets amid the works of '80s art star Jean-Michel Basquiat. With headliners such as DJ Spooky, Peanut Butter Wolf, Shepard Fairey and Grandmaster Flash manning the decks, you can bet the MFAH pulled in a lot of folks who normally wouldn't visit a fine art museum. And we're all for that.
Andrea Zittel's work is literally life-changing. Her sculptures and installations reflect the media-driven desire to tweak all aspects of our day-to-day travails, and the solutions she presents -- portable chamber pots, modular living spaces, bizarre escape pods -- often come off as claustrophobic and paradoxical, just like our options in real life. For the show at the CAMH, co-curators Paola Morsiani and Trevor Smith crammed the main gallery with 15 years' worth of Zittel's peregrinations through space and time, practically turning the entire exhibition space into its own installation. By the end we couldn't help but appreciate the cluttered, inefficient confines of our own abodes.
Tom Burckhardt's cardboard atelier blew us away. Using brown cardboard and black paint, the artist took over DiverseWorks's project space and re-created an entire studio, complete with a vintage storefront entrance decked out in graffiti. Inside, we felt like Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit: utterly confused in a cartoon world both real and surreal. And then the artistic in-jokes started slapping us in the face. There were nods to Marcel Duchamp's urinal, Jasper Johns's coffee can, Andy Warhol's soup cans, Edward Hopper's potbellied stove, Jean-Michel Basquiat's "SAMO" and Jackson Pollock's drip-drenched shoes. It was almost enough to inspire us to start painting on the spot, although we're not sure how much luck we would've had with those cardboard brushes.

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